Type 2 Diabetes is on the Rise in Kids. Are Yours at Risk?

Black boy eating lunch at school

Although Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in adults, pediatricians are seeing more cases of the chronic condition in children.

“These days, we are seeing a slow but steady increase in the incidence of Type 2, or insulin-resistant, diabetes in children due to the prevalence of overweight and obese children in this country,” said Dr. Nunilo Rubio, a pediatric endocrinologist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.

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What’s the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

Although diabetes is a well-known disease, it is still misunderstood by many. Type 1 diabetes – or Juvenile Diabetes – is an autoimmune disease that’s typically diagnosed at an early age and must be managed throughout a person’s lifetime. “In Type 1 diabetic patients, the immune system mistakenly produces antibodies against the islet cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for producing insulin,” explained Dr. Rubio.

As a result, children with Type 1 diabetes must receive insulin injections to regulate their blood sugar levels. On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes, which is most common in adults and overweight populations, inhibits the body’s ability to use insulin properly.

Together, both types of diabetes are the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 29 million Americans suffering from the disease.  According to data from the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 208,000 U.S. children have been diagnosed with diabetes.  Although Type 1 is still the most common form among children, the incidence of Type 2 in children is rising.  Newly diagnosed cases of Type 2 diabetes among children has grown from less than 5 percent in 1994 to about 20 percent in recent years.

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The increase in cases of Type 2 diabetes among children is partially credited to the disease being recognized sooner. “There is now more increased awareness of the problem of overweight and obese children, and Type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Rubio. “For example, schools have become more proactive in checking for symptoms of the disease.”

Many schools are now screening for acanthosis nigricans – the darkening and/or thickening of the skin in the neck and folds of the body, which are associated with insulin resistance. Students who show these symptoms are often referred by the school to a doctor for a consultation.

Diabetic girl using blood glucose meter

What Can You Do to Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes in Your Children?

The best way to keep Type 2 diabetes at bay in children is to instill good health habits. Nearly one in five children in America is overweight or obese. “Eating a balanced diet and encouraging an active lifestyle usually keeps the weight in a healthy range,” explained Dr. Rubio. “Regular visits to a pediatrician allow for measuring height and weight, and calculating body mass index, which can also be very helpful.”

Improving Your Kids’ Eating Habits Starts with Proper Foods and Portion Sizes

Growing children should eat well-balanced meals containing foods from each of the five food groups. Portion size depends on the child’s age, sex and level of physical activity. For recommendations on personalized portion sizes, parents can visit www.choosemyplate.gov.

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To learn more about protecting your child’s health, visit www.childrens.memorialhermann.org.

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Tashika Varma